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Mali now Islamist training ground?

July 13, 2012 at 4:21 PM

BAMAKO, Mali, July 13 (UPI) -- Mali rebels linked to al-Qaida, who now control the north, are training fighters who could soon become terrorists in Europe, experts say.

Islamist groups have completely taken over from Tuareg groups more interested in political power than religion, The Guardian reported. The newspaper said it has obtained footage showing Islamists dragging the bodies of senior Tuareg leaders behind trucks and holding public whippings.

"If Islamists continue to control vast areas of Mali where they can do what they like, then this will pose a direct threat to Europe," a senior western diplomat based in the Malian capital, Bamako, told the newspaper. "You cannot forget how close this region is to Europe. They are currently recruiting people in northern Mali, offering them money, training and weapons. If this continues, it is a matter of time before it affects Europe directly."

Valentina Soria, an expert on counter-terrorism and security at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said the Mali Islamists have "huge access" to arms and ammunition from Libya. She said northern Africa is much closer to Europe than Afghanistan and Pakistan, making it a good training ground for those planning terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.

Mali, bordered on its north by Algeria, is a landlocked country and one of the poorest in the world.

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